@Lieutenant recommended me this, and at first I wasn't really all that enthusiastic. I mean, a show from year 2001 of Cartoon Network? I watched some of those, in late 90-ies, and I really wasn't all that impressed. However, I decided to give it a try. I mean, it's a show about samurai, and it's made by Genndy Tartakovsky - Gennady Borisovich Tartakovsky, who is Russian-American. So I was at least somewhat curious.
I shall now spoil the whole first 3 episodes of the show, just so we can get into the core of the things.
In first episode ancient evil shape-shifting demon called Aku awakens from its imprisonment and proceeds to attack the one who ipmrisoned him - the Emperor of Japan. Emperor fails to defeat the demon again, but send away the magic sword - the only weapon that can hurt the demon - and his own son away. Sword is hidden, and young prince undergoes harsh training all over the world, that lasts for 22 years, and ends with him getting the sword and traveling to fight the demon. And just as he's about to land a final strike, Aku uses his magic to send samurai thousands of years into the future.
Second episode shows Jack being landed in a crazy futuristic metropolis, reminding me of The 5th Element movie. There he barely escapes being crashed by all the machinery, gets called 'Jack' a lot by some definitely drugged up locals and ends up in a bar. Where he promptly gets into a fight with some weird monster-looking aliens, and then takes a job from a bunch of talking dogs that take him away in their rocket.
Third episode shows Jack helping the dogs to protect their archeological dig from Aku - who is the ruler of all Earth and, it seems like, big part of the universe - who just sent hundreds of evil robots to kill them all. Most of the episode Jack sets up traps and even more of the episode he fights, ending the episode completely covered in black oil after cutting down hundreds of robots.
These three episodes were presented as a sort of a pilot movie, and that what started Jack's journey into the world of the future. But important thing is not the story exactly. Important thing, that made me take good notice of the show immediately, was style.
First episode. for its most part, shows montage - or sequence - of Jack going through 22 years of his training. There are no words - just imagery and music. The story is told as visually as it can be told. You understand everything, and even though it's incredibly drawn out, you don't mind it, because it's part of the story and important world-building.
Second episode mostly sets up the world of the future - Earth is now some futuristic mess, with aliens being allowed to live there for a tribute to Aku, and all sorts of weird humans, aliens and robots roaming all sorts of landscapes. The episode explains the main idea of the show - samurai from the past in environment he is absolutely foreign to.
Third episode is all about that fight with robots. All the moves are shown, all the traps are used - all of them! - and Jack slowly and painfully goes from wearing full set of armor to losing all protection and getting covered by robotic blood. The fight is incredibly visual - I don't see fight being as well taken care of in most of today shows. And it's there for the sake of the fight. It's a show about samurai, and it must have fights - as simple as that.
And that perfectly ties up everything you need to know about the show to go into it. It's always the combination of absolutely crazy setting, and of visual storytelling. Some episodes feel absolutely experimental - plays on art and animation styles. Some episodes are pure references. I mean, they have scenes from 300 movie there before 300 movie was ever make. How cool is that!
There are some recurring characters and themes, but mostly all you see over the course of 4 seasons is new. And also it ranges to some incredibly silly stuff to things that would almost make you tear up. Along the way you get some more references to the main story, though the premise always remains simple - Jack tries to find portal to the past, but always fails due to him trying too hard to help everyone else around him. Oh, and he also loses his shirt a lot. Yes, that's a thing.
The show got to me and I didn't even realize. Eventually you get involved, and the crazyness of world becomes secondary - it all becomes about characters. With Jack, of course, being the center one, and Aku playing constant supporting role of big bad evil. There's also Scotsman - recurring character who is both antagonistic and similar to Jack, and eventually becomes friend to the samurai. Though, the rest of the cast is quite memorable too. Guardian of the portal, White Rabbit girl, Scissorsmith (he's a horrible bastard btw), the Guy with a case... list is long.
My concern at first was that Jack, being as trained and proficient as he is, would feel just too strong and uninteresting. But while he can overcome pretty much any opponent, his struggle is also presented, and the weight on his shoulders is sometimes more than even the best swordsman in the world can bear. That his own uncertainly makes it good and justifies his physical power.
Now, I mentioned 4 seasons. But in total, there are 5. Apparently, after 13 years, show finally got it's final season, that concluded the story. And that one was quite unlike the first 4. First of all, it was very deliberately a fan-service celebration, referring the previous seasons - from characters to even the old opening. Next, it was, this time, a complete, streamlined story, all tying up together in the end. And lastly, it his us with must more serious themes that the first seasons of the show. And, with all the battles still there, generally it was much more intense and dramatic.
It did feel ruched at times, and somewhat awkward at times, but all elements of the original show were still there, and conclusion - definite conclusion - to the story probably game a lot of satisfaction to those who waited for it for 13 years.
All in all? Real gem of the show. I feel bad I never knew about it before. Thanks @Lieutenant for the recommendation.